WASHINGTON – President Bush, embracing nearly all the recommendations of a White House commission, said Wednesday he was creating a national security service at the FBI (search) to specialize in intelligence as part of a shake-up of the disparate U.S. spy agencies.
A fact sheet describing the White House's broad acceptance of changes said three recommendations were under review and a fourth, which remained classified, was rejected.
Bush also issued an executive order allowing the freezing of any financial assets in the United States of people, companies or organizations involved in the spread of weapons of mass destruction (search). The order designates eight organizations in Iran, North Korea and Syria. Americans also are barred from doing business with them.
"This really is intended to take what we've found to be a very effective tool against terrorism targets ... and expand that to counterproliferation targets," said Bush's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend.
Treasury Secretary John Snow (search) said the order sends a message that "if you deal in weapons of mass destruction, you're not going to use the U.S. financial system to bankroll or facilitate your activities." Many of the intelligence changes deal with the bureaucracy. But Townsend said it was not just a reshuffling of boxes but a "fundamental strengthening" of intelligence agencies.
Those changes include directing the Justice Department to consolidate its counterterrorism, espionage and intelligence units. Bush also will ask Congress to create an assistant attorney general position to help centralize those operations. Bush wrote in a memo to intelligence agency leaders that "further prompt action is necessary" at the Justice Department and FBI to address security challenges.
FBI Director Robert Mueller (search) will share authority for choosing the head of the new service with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who also will have a say in the unit's budget. Though FBI directors have long guarded the bureau's autonomy, Mueller said, "I don't see it as a loss of independence at all."
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, appearing with Mueller at a news conference, addressed concerns that the new service would be a domestic spy agency that would answer to Negroponte. "Every law enforcement official within the FBI is going to remain under the supervision of the FBI director and ultimately, the attorney general," Gonzales said.
In March, a nine-member commission led by Republican Laurence Silberman, a judge on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and former Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., presented a scathing 600-page report about U.S. intelligence agencies and its ability to understand and protect against the threat from weapons of mass destruction.
Robb said it was "truly extraordinary" that Bush had accepted so many of the commission's proposals.
"By embracing 70 of the 74 recommendations, the commission's batting average is now almost .950. Even Ted Williams would have envied that," Robb said in a written statement.
Bush asked for the review in early 2004 after it became clear that prewar intelligence on Iraq was flawed. After a 13-month investigation, the commission concluded the intelligence community was "dead wrong" in almost all of its prewar findings on Iraq's arsenal. Those bruising critiques followed a number of others of the CIA, FBI, Defense Department and other elements of the intelligence community since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the botched Iraq intelligence estimates.
As a result, numerous reforms had already been ordered by Congress, the White House and within government agencies. Many were contained in an intelligence overhaul law passed by Congress in December, which created a national intelligence director to oversee the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies.
A recommendation that the White House left for further review would have the national intelligence director hold accountable those organizations that contributed to the flawed assessments of Iraq's weapons programs. The administration said that the intelligence director was still reviewing the need for reforms "that may include greater DNI oversight and changes in organizational roles and responsibilities."
Among the changes accepted by the administration were:
— forming a National Counter Proliferation Center to coordinate the U.S. government's collection and analysis of intelligence on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The task is now performed by many national security agencies.
— asking Congress to reform its oversight of intelligence agencies.
— putting CIA Director Porter Goss in charge of all overseas human intelligence, or traditional spy work, done by government operatives.
— proposing legislation that would extend the duration of electronic surveillance in cases involving foreign agents.
— put in place new procedures for dissenting intelligence analysis to be allowed to reach senior officials.
— giving the intelligence director a staff of "mission managers" who will develop strategies for specific intelligence areas. As an example, the commission said the director could have a mission manager focused on a specific country, such as China.